Today I drove my son to school, which passed us by a local business that had put out some stuff for free including this five-panel door:

Free door

I dropped my son at school and then swung back around to snap it up, as I’ve been wanting to make a headboard from an old door. And me being me, I didn’t want to pay for one. I confirmed with the workers that the door was indeed free. They then joked about whether or not I also wanted this free toilet.

Free toilet

I went and looked at it and noticed how the toilet seat looked brand new and had chrome hardware. And since my toilet seat does not look brand new, (thanks to an alcohol swipe that my son left on it overnight) I indeed did take the toilet seat.

After I’d gone home to grab some gloves.

Toilet selfie

I’m cheap, but still have some semblance of pride. (By the way I checked on Home Depot’s website, and this is a $37 toilet seat. Which means I keep getting an ad for this toilet seat on every website I visit!)

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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I am a thrift store geek! And because I live in Portland, Oregon, I am loyal to Goodwill. (Okay, okay, I sometimes cheat with the William Temple House thrift shop across town, but I promise it means nothing to me. I swear, It’s purely physical!) I hear from readers across the country about how their Goodwills aren’t as good as our Goodwills, and I admit it, I get a little smug. Portland cultivates its hipster reputation with its food carts, bicycle culture and Portlandia vibe, but I vote that it’s our Goodwill thrift shops that put us on the map.

Because the Goodwill Industries of The Columbia Willamette (GICW) know what they’re doing. Clean, organized and filled to the brim with treasures for the eagle-eyed customer.

So when I got an e-mail from the PR department, asking if I would like a behind the scenes tour of the Goodwill of my choice, there was no hesitation.

Why yes, I would enjoy a behind the scenes tour of Goodwill. (Understatement of the year!)

When I, the thrift store geek frugal queen of Portland think of Goodwill, it’s all about the thrift shops. But of course, the shops are just a means to an end. A way to raise money to support their mission, which is:

“To provide vocational opportunities to people with barriers to employment.”

And because the Goodwill thrift shops are so very successful and profitable, they’re able to do an amazing amount of outreach throughout the community.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let me start at the beginning.

I met up with Dale Emanuel, the public relations manager of all things Goodwill and instead of going into the retail space, we walked into a different entrance which was kind of a through-the-wardrobe Narnian experience for me. (What? This was here the whole time?!) There’s a long bright hallway with offices and classrooms, and the entire length is dotted with framed photos of Goodwill employees and clients. And Ms. Dale knew the detailed back story of each and every single one of them. I madly scribbled notes trying (and failing) to keep track of all of the inspirational stories. From a woman whose traumatic brain injury left her with profound short term memory issues, to a young mother with a history of substance abuse, to developmentally disabled individuals, Dale shared their moving histories. (Goodwill does extensive outreach to homeless shelters, prisons and domestic violence shelters to locate people who would benefit from their programs.)

So many different backgrounds, yet all having Goodwill’s employment career enhancement services in common.

All the while, we’re poking our noses into their English as a second language (ESL) classrooms, the computer programming school, meeting co-workers and clients who all greet Dale by name and have a smile to share. Goodwill is proud that their entire mission is supported through their retail stores, and receives not a single penny in government funding.

Before I could ask about the controversy surrounding employees being paid less than minimum wage, I was given the full story and told that not one employee of GICW is paid less than minimum wage. None. (I also need to point out that each regions’ Goodwills are run completely separately, and the trainee whose family was upset was from a different region.) Also, GICW pays their job training participants. And because there are strict wage restrictions on persons receiving state or county benefits, training wages can result in diminished benefits. Each trainee does have an Individual Service Plan. And training wages are decided as a group and in accordance with Oregon Labor recommendations. (I imagine that paying a caseworker to put in the time to cut through all this red tape is extremely time consuming, and thus is not done as a cost cutting measure!)

We then walked across the street to the Day Services Center where I was introduced to a dozen or so developmentally delayed adults who spend their days finding community and learning important life skills. (Dale also knew the name of each and every one of them!) Clean, bright and filled with great resources, I learned more and more about where the money from my Goodwill purchases have been going. (Since I buy almost all my family’s clothing, gifts, furniture and household goods from Goodwill, it’s a sizable part of our household budget!)

Of course, no behind the scenes tour of any Goodwill would be complete without a look through the donation sorting area. I tried not to geek out too hard, but I’m afraid that I failed miserably.

Hence, this selfie:

Still life with Goodwill donations

I call it “Still Life With Goodwill Donations.”

And here I am standing inside the back of a Goodwill 18-wheeler:

I am very cool

So yeah, I kept my cool.

I learned a few new things about Goodwill, for example that employees are not allowed to buy any donated item until it’s been on the floor for three days. But I’m not too proud to brag that was able to teach Dale a thing or two, like that the pink tags, (which are new-from Target items) are never discounted. And when I pointed out that their mission is much more about employment than providing cheap goods, Dale responded that “We don’t raise money like a garage sale, we raise money like an auction.”

Then it was my turn to asking my burning questions:

How does Goodwill feel about dealers that snap up the good deals from the thrift shops?

“We love it. There are beaters and beemers in the parking lot.”

Are bedbugs are problem?

Donation sorters receive “training to know what to look for.”

What was your favorite Goodwill purchase?

A $47 white gold and diamond ring from ShopGoodwill.com.

What are some of the strangest donations that have come through the donation center?

“Bags of chicken feathers and false teeth.”

What was the most valuable Goodwill donation?

The most expensive donation ever was back in 2006. It was a mix media panting by masterpiece painter Frank Weston Benson, and it sold for $165,000 on ShopGoodwill.com!

The time finally came for my tour to end, and we decided to take a photo together. And when Dale asked me where I wanted to snap a pic, I knew the perfect backdrop. “In front of the wall of creepy dolls.” She knew exactly what I was talking about.

Goodwill wall of creepy dolls

Goodwill Industries of The Columbia Willamette is about to open a brand new pay-by-the-pound Outlet store on Airport Way, their 50th retail location! I was invited to be part of the festivities, but tragically, it’s on a day that I’m scheduled to work.

It tears my heart in two, but I guess I’ll have to shop as a regular customer.

A huge thank you to Dale Emanuel, who took an enormous amount of time from her busy schedule to take an unabashed fan-girl through every nook and cranny of the main Goodwill!

Impressive Goodwill Statistics:

  • In 2013 GICW served more than 62,700 people with barriers to employment  through their Job Connection, Employee Career Enhancement and ESL programs.
  • Total 2013 revenue was 152.4 million dollars!
  • GICW has been the #1 Goodwill-retailer in North America for 23 consecutive years.
  • Goodwill’s administrative costs are less than 5% of annual revenues.

For more information about Goodwill, please visit MeetGoodwill.org.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on October 20, 2014 · 36 comments

free trail mix

  1. I worked with my mother to clean both of her guest cottages yesterday. Not only did I make a little money, but I also brought home a full container of fancy organic trail mix which prompted me to mix up a batch of The Prudent Homemaker’s granola. And since Fred Meyer had another gallon of milk marked down to $1.69, we’ve got very cheap breakfasts and snacks set for the week! Not to mention that I added it sparingly, so there’s enough for one more batch!
  2. My next door neighbor brought over her soon to expire Chinook Book yesterday. And since she and I gravitate towards different coupons, the ones that I use, (like the buy-one-get-one-free Bob’s Red Mill coupon) are still in place. I think I’ll use the coupon to buy 25-pound bags of flour.
  3. I worked both Friday and Saturday and made sure to bring food to last throughout the entire 12-1/2 hour shift. The hospital provides free coffee and tea, and I always drink at least two cups of their nice Tazo brand mint tea. A free and completely guilt-free treat!
  4. I used up three of the 28-ounce cans of crushed organic tomatoes that I picked up at The Grocery Outlet to make a huge batch of marinara sauce. I did add a pound of nice New Seasons bulk sausage, but there’s now enough sauce for last night’s spaghetti, pizza tonight and two baked ziti casseroles to put into the freezer. Not bad for eight dollars and change of ingredients.
  5. I mended my very favorite pair of flannel pajamas, which are a little too long for me and had torn down by the heel. (They’re actually my husband’s pajamas bottoms, but he never wears them.) I love them because they have deep pockets, are thick but soft and don’t have that obnoxious low women’s-style waistline. I suppose I should hem them now, but I don’t want to rush things. ;-)

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Christmas 2004

Like many others, I internalize the pressures of  holiday gift giving. Sure, I like the creative challenge, but however much I try to keep the expenses under budget they always seems to spiral out of control. I try not to get too anxious about the holidays until after Halloween, but the subject keeps coming up over at The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook group, so I thought I would address it head on.

Because I try to only buy used, thrifted gifts need to be picked up throughout the year. However, I’m going to thrift stores a lot less often, so my normally plush stash is thin and puny.

Thin and puny!

I did screw up my nerve a few years and approached certain family members about no longer doing gift exchanges, and with the exception of a few people, everyone was up for it. So we no longer exchange gifts with cousins, adults on my father’s side of the family or adult siblings. My husband and I stopped exchanging gifts as well. (We continue to give each other birthday presents.)

My husband’s family tried a choose-a-name gift exchange a few years ago, but it was an enormous disaster for us as the person who set it up included my children, which meant that they were then just as responsible for buying gifts as an adult would be. Also, the organizer didn’t want to set any general amount to be spent, which made the whole endeavor very vague and subsequently expensive. Everyone else saved money, and my family spent at least four times the amount we normally would have spent. (I picked my own son, which meant I had to give him the level of gift he normally would’ve received from his generous grandparents.)

Thankfully that experiment was not repeated.

Here’s who we do exchange gifts with:

  • My mother and step-father.
  • My niece and nephew.
  • My mother-in-law and father-in-law.
  • Our 16 and 19-year-old sons.

However, there are also a number of holiday birthdays to contends with, so I lump those into the holiday budget as well. (December 11th, 16th, 23rd and 27th!)

This may not seem like much to others who have larger families and multiple nieces and nephews, but it really does add up.

Luckily, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve:

  • My husband was awarded a catalog from his employer for blah-blah-blah years of service and he gets to choose one item for free. (They sent two, as apparently they’d forgotten the last milestone year.) We’ll look through the catalog with an eye for checking off a substantial gift for one of the kids.
  • We have a Sears credit card which awards points to be exchanged for gift cards. (We use the card for expenses related to the non-profits that my husband volunteers for, so all expenses are reimbursed.) Last year we chose a Shell station gift card, as that was money we’d be spending anyway, but this year my husband chose $80 in Sears gift cards for some reason. But we’ll figure out something, anything from Sears that can work to winnow down our gift giving needs. Hopefully we can stretch this credit using sales, coupons, etc.
  • I was sent a review copy of a book about making earrings, which despite being a lovely book was too off topic for the blog. However, my ten-year-old niece loves to make earrings, so she’ll get the book. I also found a darling child size bracelet on the sidewalk and will include that as well.
  • I’ll take books into Powell’s bookstore for credit and use that towards gift giving. (I have an enormous box of my childhood and teenage era books in my father’s attic that I need to go though.)
  • I have two gift certificates for 100 free photo prints from Costco, leftover from a long forgotten camera purchase. Since these gift certificates lack expiration dates, I’m going to figure out a way to use them towards some kind of gift project.
  • I have a number of $5 Amazon gift cards I earned from doing my web searches through Swagbucks. Plus, I use my mother’s Amazon Prime account to get free shipping.

I do like to make some of my own gifts, whether they’re food related or a craft project. Last year’s Portland Timbers-theme painted stool was a huge hit with my younger son, and gets daily use and appreciation. (And remember the manga chair I made for my older son? I’m here to tell you that teenage boys can appreciate homemade gifts!) I also give the boys a new pair of pajamas every year, which I’m always able to find brand new at Goodwill. (Many men apparently receive pajamas as gifts and then just turn around and immediately donate them.)

I like to give what I call the “anchor gift” along with a few “satellite gifts.” In other words, one main gift with a sprinkling of smaller gifts. And as much as I grumble, I really do like the creative challenge of figuring out the perfect gifts for those on my list.

Whew . . . sorry about the brain dump of a blog post. And P.S., aren’t my kids cute? I think that photo is from 2003 or 2004.

Have you been able to simplify your holiday gift giving traditions? Or do you even want to? What are your sure fire gift ideas? Please share your thought in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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A Lifetime of Daily Frugality

by Katy on October 15, 2014 · 64 comments

Frugality is like any other discipline, It only works if you make it a part of your daily routine. It doesn’t matter if you got a free pair of boots from a friend if you then celebrate by taking everyone out for drinks. If you’re in a position where you really need to be frugal, it requires that you unapologetically put it front and center.

I’m frugal every single day. I have no breaks, and that’s okay. Choosing a frugal life does not mean a life of deprivation. I still eat delicious meals, get together with friends and want for nothing whatsoever. I cook 95% from scratch, socialize without spending money and would rather mend something that replace it with something new (or even used) any day of the week.

That chicken soup with dumplings that I made from the drumstick bones? It became my lunch yesterday and then my breakfast for today. It also created an extra quart of chicken broth, which I used as the base for last night’s Rosemary White Bean soup. And when I walked over to Fred Meyer yesterday to pick up a few things, my plan had been to buy two half-gallons of milk instead of a full gallon. Why? Because when Fred Meyer has their half-gallon on sale for $1.25, it becomes cheaper to buy it this way. However, this milk won my purchasing loyalty:

Clearance milk

Every day, and every purchasing decision revolves around my frugality.

At this point you may be thinking that my life sounds like an enormous bummer. A life without joy.

You are wrong.

Being frugal is freedom, not a limitation.

I’m able to not panic over the potential news that my husband may be about to go on strike. I’m able to send my sons on amazing exchanges to Japan, which are not cheap. Our bills get paid on time, our cars are paid off and our student loan payments are a thing of the past. (My husband went back to school in 2001-2005.)

We eat bean based soups at least a couple of nights per week and we wear our clothes to death!

And every day we putter along with our unassuming frugal ways.

Do you see your own frugality as a noose to be banished the moment money loosens up, or is it more of a longterm lifestyle? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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This giveaway has ended. Congratulations to Barbara and Christie who each won a copy of Ashley English’s “Handmade Gatherings.”  Thank you to Roost Books for making this giveaway possible!

handmade_gatherings_lg

It’s been awhile since I’ve hosted a giveaway on the blog, but today is a very special treat because I have copies of Ashley English’s newest book for two, count ‘em two lucky readers! (Thank you, Roost Books!) You may remember Ashley English from her previous books A Year of Pies, Keeping Bees, Home Dairy, Canning & Preserving and Keeping Chickens. Yes, this woman is pro-to-the-ductive (and married my my old college friend Glenn!)

Today’s giveaway is for Handmade Gatherings: Recipes & Crafts for Seasonal Celebrations & Potluck Parties, and is amazing! I’ve been carrying it everywhere with me, thinking I couldn’t put this giveaway together until I’d finished it. But the book is so massive, I decided to just throw caution to the wind and share my bounty.

This amazing tome is half cookbook, half beautiful photography and half great ideas for inventive potlucks. So many of us refrain from entertaining, as the prospect is downright intimidating, but English shows quite clearly how these events can be put together while still paying the mortgage and keeping one’s supposed sanity. And in case you have traumatizing memories of 1970’s Jello salad potlucks or college era potlucks of nothing but chips, salsa, and Rolling Rock; English is here to tell you that potlucks have grown up!

To enter to win your own personal copy of Handmade Gatherings, just write your name in comments section below. I will randomly choose two winners, Thursday, October 16th at midnight PST. Please enter one time only.

Good luck!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on October 13, 2014 · 21 comments

Bean soup mix

  1. I planned a get together with my friend Leslie today, and instead of going out for coffee, we stayed in and I served tea. She had a Starbucks reward, and used it to pick up some pastries. We then went for a walk and enjoyed a nice long chat. Money spent? Nothing!
  2. I used a $2-off-$5 meat coupon at Fred Meyer to pick up a large pack of drumsticks. I then boiled up the leftover bones to make chicken soup for last night’ s dinner. I did have to add a single chicken breast to ensure there was enough meat, but it was still a perfectly nourishing meal.
  3. I foraged in my pantry and forced myself to prepare one of the bean soup mixes I’d put together for Christmas 2012. (Yup, that’s no typo!) It was pretty tasty, although the resulting soup pretty much resembled thinned out refried beans once I’d pureed it. Everyone ate it on night #1, but I was the only one who would eat the leftovers. Alright by me, and no one can accuse me of not getting my recommended fiber for the week!
  4. I’ve been listening to free library audiobooks through the Overdrive app on my iPhone 4. I just finished listening to Anne Lamott’s Word by Word, which is a speech she presented at a 2004 writing conference. I loved it so much, that as soon as I was done listening to it, I listened to it all over again. The advice she gives may be directed towards writers, but the lessons about being honest and present in the moment are without category.
  5. My sixteen-year-old son is very good about getting himself up and off to school with time enough to take the city bus. And since he’s my only student now, I no longer make the five mile round trip drive to school and back each day. And since the school district provides free bus passes, we’re buying a lot less gasoline this year!

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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It’s Time to Talk About Money

by Katy on October 12, 2014 · 46 comments

I think about non-consumerism all the time. I think about keeping my family’s finances under control and sourcing free and almost free necessities and keeping my house decluttered and creating a lovely home without budgeting any money for the cause and how to scrounge extra money and frugal yet tasty meal planning and how little laundry detergent I can use before the clothes start to smell and finding great library materials and batching my errands to save gas and finding great free entertainment  . . . and . . . and . . . and . . .

And then I talk about non-consmerism. Even though it’s taboo and considered tacky to talk about money in this country, I say it needs to happen. Because others always think they’re the only ones worrying about money, and how to pull everything together with limited resources. (I know there are some who have limitless resources, but there are few and far between in my social circle.)

When we don’t talk about money, people think that having limited financial resources is shameful and to be kept a secret.

I was once talking about frugality with a patient at work and she was shocked. She’d come to America from a third world country and thought that American born people had no financial worries whatsoever. I explained that very few Americans aren’t working to figure out how to make their money stretch. It was an eye opener for her.

Just yesterday I picked my son up from a sleepover at a friend’s home. I’d never been to this friend’s house before and I was impressed with their affluent neighborhood and gorgeous historic home. I then talked to my son about it as we drove home to get ready for soccer. We talked about how their house might seem fancy to us, but that others have that same reaction to our house. We may know that we bought a revolting fixer-upper and that all our all our stuff is either free or from thrift shops, but others don’t. But when my son’s lower income friends come over, they see us as having a fancy house. But that kid whose family owns a house in a lower income area? He’s impressive to someone who doesn’t own their home! And that friend who lives in an historic home in an affluent area? They likely have friends who live in an even better houses.

It never ends. (Unless you’re Bill Gates, in which case it does end.)

I then sat on the sidelines of my son’s soccer game and had this same conversation with a fellow soccer mom. I know that she sees our home as fancy, but I want there to be transparency about how much work it took to create our nice home. I want there to be an openness when it comes to talking about money.

My husband and I do not have the money to spend out without consequence. It would be a great story if I could say that because of the buy-nothing-new Compact and associated frugality we now have fully funded college funds and hugely plush savings accounts, but that would be a lie. Neither my husband nor I have high paying jobs, and our fixer-upper house sucked us dry in the early days.

I could keep my family’s money matters a secret, and then you could enjoy the false impression that you’re the only family that scrimps and saves. But that do you a disservice.

Having conversations about money has been greatly beneficial to me. Both because I’ve been able to share ideas and inspiration, but also because I then get a chance to learn new tricks and sources.

None of us live in our own hermetically sealed bubble. We live within communities and we are not alone. But when we abstain from talking about taboo subjects, we keep ourselves isolated from others.

Honesty in communication is not to be feared, and deepens relationships.

So let’s talk about money, let’s banish the shame of not being wealthy.

Let’s banish the money taboo.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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October Grocery Challenge Update

by Katy on October 10, 2014 · 14 comments

october grocery challenge

Here we are, ten days into the October Grocery Challenge and it’s time to check in with how my family is doing.

Which is poorly.

Not poorly in the sense that anything’s wrong in our lives, poorly because my family of four has spent $182.88 on groceries so far, which doesn’t bode well with my goal to spend under $450 for the month. (And my secret goal to actually keep it under $400.) However, I’m not beating myself up too badly since I knew we’d be spending out this week due to celebrating my older son’s 19th birthday. It’s not unusual for my mother and step-father to take us out to eat for family birthdays, but this year we mixed things up and hosted them. (Can’t be too much of a mooch!) My son absolutely loves steak, so I planned a steak dinner, which becomes prohibitively expensive when eaten in a nice restaurant. (We ate at Morton’s a few years ago, and I think the bill came to over $500 for the six of us!)

Here’s how much we’ve spent on groceries so far for the month of October:

  • 10/2 Grocery Outlet – $25.35
  • 10/3 Safeway – $39.41
  • 10/6 New Seasons – $13.97
  • 10/7 Costco – $80.76 . . . hellooooooo rib eye steaks!
  • 10/9 Fred Meyer $23.39

Which adds up to $182.88

Multiply that by 3, and you get $584.64, not a sustainable budget. However, we’ve been eating with an emphasis on frugality since Tuesday, and will continue to shop and cook with the budget in mind. Although my mother’s birthday is on the 21st this month, so I’ll have to start thinking about a special yet not insanely expensive meal to serve.

Here’s what we’ve eaten for dinner this week:

  • Monday: Frozen homemade baked ziti, which then became lunches for a few days.
  • Tuesday: Rib eye steaks with baked potatoes, roasted green beans and pumpkin cheesecake for dessert.
  • Wednesday: Fajitas, which used up the small amount of leftover steak.
  • Thursday: Roasted potato, egg and black bean burritos, which used up the leftover baked potatoes.
  • Friday: Mixed bean soup with cornbread.

See how that one expensive meal lent itself to a few other meals?

I do have a decently stocked pantry, although I’ll replace and take advantage of sales as much as I normally would. I haven’t been doing meal planning more than a day in advance, but that works well for me. I plan based on what I have on hand, and what needs to get eaten up. And I generally shop based on having standard ingredients on hand, rather than what I need for specific meals.

And a big thank you to everyone who shared their steak cooking tips on the blog, as they were very helpful! I ended up bringing the rib eyes to room temperature, sprinkling with kosher salt and pepper, searing in blazing hot cast iron pans and then finishing them off in a 500º oven. (After placing a pat of butter over each steak.) I knew they were appreciated because everyone was completely silent during one point in the meal, which was a first!

Are you trying to keep an eye on your food budget for the month of October? Please share your progress in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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If there’s one category that all Goodwill thrift shops share, it’s a wide variety of organizing containers. Whether it’s bins, boxes, crates or ceramic canisters, Goodwill is sure to provide.

For example the targeted savings bank for a “New Wheels Fund.”

photo 3

Sometimes the Goodwill containers are a bit baffling. Like these standard empty beer bottles:

photo 2

Call me picky, but when I pay $1.99 for a beer bottle, there needs to be some actual beer in it!

Beer bottles - detail

Of course, standard kitchen storage is a common find at area Goodwills as well.

Flour:

Flour canister

Sugar:

Sugar canister

Farts:

Farts canister

Finally, I can keep my farts in a contained environment!

Oh Goodwill . . . you never fail to provide.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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